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Google exposes Buzz private parts

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Google is trying its best to ward off privacy watchdogs by asking Buzz users to hit rewind on the creepy real-time service.

The company, keen to be seen to be doing the right thing, is asking users to reconfirm their privacy settings - to make sure that they’re not spooked by the level of information they're giving away.

Google aggressively slotted Buzz into Gmail earlier this year. Within hours of Buzz’s unholy arrival, the ad broker was shot to pieces by angry users for its ungraceful efforts to turn a free online email service into something more akin to Twitter and Facebook.

Yesterday, Google scrambled to remind users who have unwittingly overlooked Mountain View’s rehashed Buzz privacy settings to take a proper look and make sure they’re not giving away too much information via the service.

“Rather than automatically setting you up to follow the people you email and chat with most, Google Buzz now suggests people for you to follow instead. This way, Buzz is still simple to set up (no one wants to peck out an entire social network from scratch) but you aren't set up to follow anyone until you choose to do so,” said Buzz product manager Todd Jackson yesterday.

“But many of you started using Google Buzz before we made these changes, and we want to help you ensure that Buzz is set up the way you want. Offering everyone who uses our products transparency and control is very important to us, so if you started using Google Buzz before we changed the start-up experience, you'll see [a] confirmation page the next time you click into the Buzz tab.”

Of course, Google only tweaked Buzz’s privacy settings after it clamped the software onto Gmail. It then waited for the backlash to kick off before admitting it was wrong, then made a few changes to Buzz, including simple stuff like making it easier for users to locate the privacy settings page.

But since then the criticism levelled against Google hasn’t gone away. If anything, it has intensified.

In February the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) grumbled about Mountain View’s privacy cock-up with Buzz. And just last week 11 US lawmakers called on the FTC to investigate allegations that Google had revealed personal details of its users without first securing their consent.

But surely Google’s latest efforts to remind Buzz users about their privacy settings has nothing to do with any such probe of its service by US regulators, does it? ®

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